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Vaccination Rates Rose In August As COVID Cases Surged Due To The Delta Variant

A COVID-19 vaccination dose is prepared at a pharmacy in Baton Rouge, La., on Aug. 17. About 14 million people received their first dose of a COVID vaccine in August.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
A COVID-19 vaccination dose is prepared at a pharmacy in Baton Rouge, La., on Aug. 17. About 14 million people received their first dose of a COVID vaccine in August.

Vaccination rates were up in August as COVID-19 surges due to the delta variant led more people to seek the vaccine. That's according to White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients, who spoke at a briefing for reporters Tuesday. About 14 million U.S. residents received their first dose of a COVID-19 shot in August, he said, which is about 4 million more than in July.

Zients credits the widespread adoption of vaccine mandates by governments, schools and businesses. He pointed to the jump in vaccinations in Washington state, where the weekly vaccinate rate rose 34% after the state announced vaccination requirements for state employees, teachers and school staff.

"Bottom line," he said, "vaccination mandates work." Tens of millions of people now face mandatory vaccine requirements, he said.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said that she hoped last week's full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and older would encourage even more people to get vaccinated as the Labor Day holiday approaches. The CDC has not yet released any data on any possible impact that the full approval of the vaccine is having on vaccination rates.

In response to a reporter's question about increasing restrictions on international travel, Walensky said that fully vaccinated people should take the risks of the delta variant into consideration but can travel over this holiday weekend as long as they take appropriate precautions, including being masked while traveling.

But for others, Walensky said that "first and foremost, if you are not vaccinated, we would recommend not traveling" over the holiday weekend.

The average number of daily cases in the United States stands at about 130,000, Walensky reported, with around 900 deaths per day on average. Other COVID-19 trackers put the number of deaths above 1,000 a day.

On the topic of booster shots, Walensky said that federal agencies continue to review the data, including studies from other countries, that suggest that vaccine effectiveness may be waning somewhat when it comes to hospitalizations, serious disease and deaths.

U.S. data have shown that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines' effectiveness in preventing breakthrough infections declines somewhat over six to eight months in some people.

When asked if the administration had gotten ahead of itself last week by announcing that a booster plan would start Sept. 20, Walensky defended the decision as necessary to stay ahead of the coronavirus.

"It is our own data, as well as international data, that has led us to be concerned that the waning we're seeing for infection will soon lead to waning that we would see for hospitalizations, severe disease and death," Walensky said, "which is why it's so critical now to plan ahead."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Neel
Joe Neel is NPR's deputy senior supervising editor and a correspondent on the Science Desk.